How Long Are You Contagious When You Have Bronchitis?

Characterized by a hacking cough that can linger for upwards of two weeks, cases of acute bronchitis most often stem from a viral infection (via Cleveland Clinic). The infection prompts inflammation and mucus buildup in the airways that connect down to our lungs. While a minimal number of cases can be traced to a bacterial infection, you'll most often see the emergence of acute bronchitis cases during the colder months of the year, when respiratory virus numbers are on the rise (via Yahoo! Health).

As the primary symptom associated with bronchitis, patients often experience either a wet or dry cough. In cases of a wet cough, phlegm may be green, yellow, clear, or white in color. However, other symptoms that can accompany a case of bronchitis include shortness of breath, runny nose, fever, fatigue, or wheezing.

While the condition itself is not contagious, the viruses or bacteria responsible for the condition can be transferred from person to person through close contact or exposure to contaminated surfaces (via the Cleveland Clinic). Therefore, if you find yourself ill with bronchitis, how long does it take for the risk of contagion to pass?

Contagiousness of acute bronchitis versus chronic bronchitis

In cases of acute bronchitis that are the product of a viral infection, individuals are contagious for anywhere from a few days to a week (via Cleveland Clinic). For those with bacteria-related cases of bronchitis, however, the risk of contagion generally goes away after 24 hours following the start of antibiotic treatment.

However, there are also cases of chronic bronchitis, in which individuals experience an ongoing wet cough for approximately three months out of the year for two or more years. Chronic bronchitis may be related to an alternate health condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or may be due to external irritants, such as smoke, dust, or air pollutants, according to American Family Care Urgent Care. In cases of chronic bronchitis, a patient is not considered contagious.

However, if you become sick with a case of acute bronchitis, it's best to try and avoid being in close contact with others while contagious. The same is true even if you are healthy but suspect someone around you may be ill.

Bronchitis treatment and prevention

While medication is not always the answer for cases of acute bronchitis, in some instances, your doctor may prescribe antivirals to speed up the healing process, depending on the cause of the illness (per the Cleveland Clinic). In other cases, anti-inflammatory medications or bronchodilator drugs may be prescribed to make breathing easier for the patient.

Generally speaking, it's rare that a person will be given antibiotics for cases of bronchitis unless the cause is bacterial. "One of the common misconceptions is that yellow or green phlegm means that you have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics," Dr. Emily Pennington, a pulmonologist at the Cleveland Clinic, states via Yahoo! Health. "But this is not true and does not correlate with having a bacterial infection or responding to antibiotics."

To help mitigate your chances of developing bronchitis, there are steps you can take to protect yourself. In addition to avoiding close contact with individuals who may be sick, eating a healthy diet, getting ample rest, engaging in frequent hand-washing or use of hand sanitizer, and keeping up with one's flu and pneumonia vaccines are some of the best preventative practices.